Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun
November 25th 2003, December 5th for Australia
The developers of the much-acclaimed Europa Universalis I and II and Hearts of Iron strike again. This time they move into a new and even less visited period of history than with Europa Universalis. Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun allows the player to take the lead of one the world’s nations, large or small, during the nineteenth century (the Victorian Period). Around one hundred and twenty nations are available for play, all needing different strategies and styles, all with varying degrees of difficulty; from the world hegemony that is the United Kingdom, to Oranje, China, Peru or even Cambodia.
Politics, economics, technology, war and colonization are all represented in this game. The game moves in real time, which throws many players off. Real time is increasingly seen as the domain of the watered down (and frankly sad) strategy games, but it works well for Paradox’s games. The ability to pause and still issue commands helps to make the game feel more traditional.
Victoria is a groundbreaking game in the political area. How many different ideals would you expect to have to deal with in a game? Well, just as a starters list here we have Conservative, Liberal, Socialist, Reactionary and many others. Your people’s political beliefs change due to the social and economic situation of your nation and the policies that work one decade may not work the next or even the next year. Minorities can have hugely different political ideals, especially when they are oppressed or feel threatened.
Your political choices also make a difference. Is your leading party a protectionist, state capitalist nation with tendencies towards pro-military spending, atheism and oppression of the nation’s minorities? Well that will influence how you can set your policies. It will influence how each group reacts to your government and it will even influence how you can establish social reforms.
Speaking of social reforms. Where will your country sit in the issues of health care, minimum wages, pensions, voting rights and many other things? Will you allow only the land owning classes to vote? The rich? Or everyone? Will you provide health care to your citizens? These are just some examples of decisions you can make and decisions that the making of, or not making, will influence your nation and its people.
The Victoria political engine is in depth, detailed and beautiful, but most importantly, it stays out of your hair for the most part. You can make your changes, you can make your decisions and it won’t destroy you straight away or even at all. Though there is a large push away from monarchies, they are not impossible to keep as long as you meet the citizen’s needs in other ways or keep yur country growing and peaceful.
Victoria’s economic engine is suffering some upheaval right now. As usual with the release of a Paradox game, the players chime in and recommend improvements. Also as usual, Paradox listens and responds. The current patch (1.02) fixed some major things in the game, making it much more difficult to make any nation, say for example Ethiopia, a world power, but it suffers a few drawbacks. It is very much expected that with the current improvements due to the last patch and Paradox’s tendency to listen to its player’s ideas and criticisms that the next patch should be expected before the end of December 2003 and should completely improve the economic model.
As it is, the economy is completely playable, though at current it is difficult to expand and grow, to say the least. Industrialization takes much effort and time. Overall, building factories and promoting workers to advanced levels is the way to go. Resources needed for production and to supply your people are bought from the world market. The market itself is pretty fluid. You can always continue to sell things to the market; the price will just continue to drop as the supply rises or vice versa, though the goods must be on the market for you to buy them.
Domestically you can control much of your economy. As stated before, the building of factories is the main way to improve your economy, railroads and technology being the next most important way of increasing your economic gain. You can determine how much money you wish to spend for education, police, military and social spending, as well as how high to set tariffs on goods bought by your country and where to set the taxes on your poor, middle class and rich citizens.
The technology engine is rather simple. You can choose from one of five categories:
Army: Military improvements as pertaining to the land arm of your forces (rifles, tanks, command principles, et cetera).
Navy: Military improvements as pertaining to the naval arm of your forces (naval guns, steamers, cruisers, et cetera).
Culture: Cultural improvements, whether they be political or social.
Industrial: These are the improvements that directly improve your infrastructure (railroads) and your factories and other industries.
Commercial: These technologies influence how much money you can earn and unveil new economic principles.
There are 25 technologies in each group. Switching your country’s main school of thought will make it easier to research some areas while harder to research others.
The war engine is rather simple, as Paradox games focus more on the simulation than on the battles. Troops are easily identified, by noticeable icons, on the world map. Moving them is quick, as you simply click them and then right click where you want them to go. Battles are fought on the main screen and the changes seen are simply troop numbers, moral and organization, until one side losses. Occupying a province requires a unit to sit in the province for a period of time (the length of which is determined by the number of troops and by the leader’s skill).
It is a rather simple war setup for a game, but it works well. It doesn’t leave you feeling completely detached from military matters, but it also doesn’t unnecessarily stretch out an already epic game.
Colonization is done a bit different in Victoria. The countries vie to set up 4 different types of colonial structures in unclaimed areas of the world. Only one structure can be set up per province (pre-determined group of states) and only by claiming all the provinces of a state or by building all four types of colonial structures in a state can one side claim the area. The claimed areas then become politically part of the nation but cannot be industrialized or developed until it is fully integrated.
Victory in Victoria is determined by three scores, but many times its just based on what the player wants to achieve, like make the Ottoman Empire a great nation again or raise Chile into the rank of one of the great nations of the world, or just reunite Italy.
Prestige: Prestige is gained by achieving victories and improving your status in the game. Victories in war bring prestige, to a lesser degree so does economic gain (though huge gains in your economy over time can be FAR greater than many victories). It can also be raised through some technologies and events and very large one time bonuses can be granted through claiming colonies. Prestige can be lost through losing wars, bankruptcies, events and other things. It is the most fluid of the three scores and also the most important.
Economy: This score is just based on how developed your economy is. How many factories and railroads do you have? How many skilled laborers? Are you losing or gaining money? All these determine your economic score in Victoria.
Military: Simply put, the military score is the strength and size of your armies.
As one can see, Victoria is not a game for the person who demands the biggest explosions, or the most simple of ideas. No blood, no gore, it is a complex and difficult game but one that can impart much reward to players who learn how to play it. The game is developed by a company that takes pride in its games and takes pride in its relationship with players.
Score: 7.5 of 10
Strategy games don’t need special graphics, but this one still delivers somewhat. The main game map is beautifully done and looks good. Pictures in most of the events also convey a feel of the time. It lacks that intangible something to really catch the eye, but then again it is a strategy game, a genre that typical requires function be more important than form. Overall though, the graphics are very far above what one would expect for this genre and by no means bad in comparison with any game.
The music is a large part of the ambience of Victoria. Comprising a collection of classical scores, it lends a feel to the game that you would not get otherwise. The fact that the music is in MP3 format helps make it much better sounding than in might otherwise be. Unfortunately, game play sounds can be lackluster, with some getting slightly annoying over time (notably army sounds). Overall though, most sound effects are not bad and do not drown out the game’s excellent music.
Game play: 7
The amount of clicking can get intense at times, especially during wars. Some commands need to be repeated many times, like when buildings railroads across large nations. In that case each province needs to be click on and then the railroad built. Some countries may have hundreds of provinces making this a time consuming task. Learning the hot keys can greatly help decrease any problem here, as well as realizing that you can pause the game and still issue commands.
Learning Curve: 5
This game can be difficult to learn and even harder to master. Paradox again skimped on the manual and this time did not include a tutorial in the game. Being such a complex game, these things make it very hard for new players to learn how to play, let alone jump in there. Looking through what is in the manual can lend a false sense of understanding to a player that is abruptly pulled away once the game begins. Overall Paradox struck out BAD in not including a tutorial and not spending time on the game’s manual. Only the fact that the game’s community is so incredibly good and helpful brings this score up.
The company’s website is http://www.paradoxplaza.com/
The game forums can be found at www.europa-universalis.com
Availability of purchase: In North America, this game can be found in very few stores. The PC market, which has increasingly become a niche market, seems to have no use for games that do not require big guns and lots of blood. To purchase this game it is recommended that you check Amazon.com or Electronic Boutique (also ebgames.com).